Where To Put Oil In An Air Fryer

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By its very definition, an air fryer does not require oil. With this being said, there are certain air fryer applications where oil improves the results. However, the main advantage of an air fryer is its ability to crisp up food without needing any. Many people choose to use air fryers as a healthier alternative to traditional deep-frying. However, if you want to enhance the flavor and texture of many types of food, read on to learn how and when adding a small amount of oil will be to your best benefit. 

Key Takeaways

  • To use oil in an air fryer, either coat the food being air fried with a tablespoon or more of oil using a basting brush or by lightly drizzling it over. Alternatively, fill a spray bottle and mist lightly over whatever is being cooked to ensure a golden coating develops. 
  • Never use large quantities of oil in your air fryer, no matter what. An air fryer must never hold a receptacle with oil, as one may mistakenly imagine when wishing to deep fry. The most oil you’ll ever need is a light coating of no more than two to three tablespoons for the largest meals. 
  • The use of oil in an air fryer is totally optional, but a little oil is highly recommended. Rather use too little oil than too much, or the crispiness and overall consistency will be spoiled, most often turning to mush while just as frequently developing an uneven cook that leaves some areas too crispy with others moisture-laden. 

How To Use Oil In An Air Fryer

Only the food being air-fried needs a light oil coating to reach maximum color and crispiness. If you air fry frequently, we strongly suggest investing in a dedicated oil/olive oil sprayer. Otherwise, for a low-budget alternative, fill a mister or spray bottle with your cooking of choice. Spritz your food to give it a light, even coating of oil everywhere before air frying and before placing it into the air fryer’s basket. Another option is basting the food with oil using a pastry/basting brush. Just ensure that you use as little oil as possible. You’ll only ever need up to one to two tablespoons of oil per air fryer meal. 

Understanding The Basics Of When To Use Oil

The overwhelming majority of foods don’t need oil to come out air fried, but giving a coating ensures that they air fry to a similar taste and texture to deep frying, just without the excess oiliness and/or fat. Opt for oiling whenever you’re looking for a golden brown color and a greater degree of crispiness and when the food you’re air frying is moisture-or-oil-laden and likely to stew instead of frying. 

If you decide to oil air fryer foods the easy way with the help of a spritzer, never spritz within the air fryer basket itself but rather always on a separate plate or container before placing it into the basket. When one sprays oil onto a non-stick surface, individual droplets form and retain their form that carbonizes far faster individually and at a higher heat that a “sheet” of oil akin to one that forms when it’s rubbed or basted. An air fryer basket never needs oiling unless the non-stick coating has incurred damage. If your air fryer basket is scratched and food has begun to stick, coat it with a light layer of oil, but nothing more than a tablespoon brushed or rubbed on at the very most. 

Best Oils For Use In An Air Fryer

It’s important to note that the type of oil you choose to use can have a significant impact on the final outcome of the dish. Oils with a high smoke point, such as avocado oil or grapeseed oil, are best for air frying as they can reach the high heat required to unlock the full range of flavor and color from whatever is being air fried. Always use the highest smoking point oil as possible, but any oil will do to improve the browning, crispiness, and taste complexity.

OilSmoke Point
Avocado Oil520°F
Ghee (Clarified Butter)485°F
Peanut Oil450°F
Soybean Oil450°F
Sunflower Oil440°F
Grapeseed Oil420°F
Extra Virgin Olive Oil410°F
Sesame Oil (Refined)410°F
Canola Oil400°F
Refined Coconut Oil400°F
Unrefined Coconut Oil350°F

Air Fryer Foods That Come Out Better Coated In Oil

If you want whatever you may be cooking to develop the color and texture characteristic of deep frying, give it a spritz or coating of oil. As long as you keep the oil to a minimum, just about all air fryer foods can be coated in oil to bolster the end product. Here are some direct examples of foods that benefit from oil in an air fryer:

Examples Of Air Fryer Foods That Do Not Need Oil

Almost all processed pre-cooked frozen food types do not need to be coated in oil unless, of course, they have a significant quantity of oil present in their composition. 

  • Marinated Food
  • Nuggets
  • Tater Tots
  • Crumbed Burger Patties
  • Pre-Breaded Frozen Foods
  • Frozen French Fries
  • Grains
  • Pasta Bakes
  • Casseroles
  • Meatloaf
  • Bakery Products
  • Baked Fruit

How An Air Fryer Works And Why You Sometimes Need Oil

An air fryer works by circulating hot air around food to create a crispy exterior. This is achieved through the use of a heating element and a fan, which rapidly circulates hot air around the food. The process of rapid air circulation creates down-pressure on the food from all directions, which results in the food being cooked evenly and causes it to crisp up similarly to deep frying with oil, without the need for any or a lot of oil. Unfortunately, despite the outer and inner texture reaching a similar point, without a light coating of oil, most foods do not develop the characteristic golden yellow to brown coloring characteristic of fried food.  

Any food coated with a light layer of oil reaches a higher temperature than without and thereby benefits from the enhanced Maillard reaction. This is due to all oils having a far higher threshold for retaining heat. Hence the relative smoking points stated for each type. With or without oil, this reaction occurs but not to as great of a degree. The Maillard reaction is a complex chemical process that occurs between amino acids and reducing sugars when heat is applied. It results in the browning and caramelization of food and is a crucial factor in the creation of flavor and texture in many dishes, including those cooked in an air fryer.

The Maillard reaction is accelerated in an air fryer used in conjunction with oil-coated food because of the hot, circulating air in constant contact. When food is lightly coated with oil, the oil creates a barrier that helps to distribute heat evenly and prevent moisture loss, resulting in a crispier exterior and a more tender, juicy interior. It is important to note that too much oil can result in an uneven cook and a greasy texture. This is why using a light layer of oil is recommended when attempting to achieve the best results in an air fryer. Additionally, by using oil, the reaction is intensified, unlocked even more desirable flavors, aromas, and crispiness.

Using Oil In An Air Fryer – Frequently Asked Questions

There’ll be no more confusion over when to use oil, which oil to use, or how much oil is best for air frying after going through our answers to all your frequently asked questions about using oil in an air fryer.

How Much Oil To Add To Your Air Fryer?

Oil must not be added to the air fryer basket or food within the basket while in the air fryer. Instead, food must be oiled using one to two tablespoons of cooking oil at the very most before being allowed to drip off the excess and then placed into the air fryer for cooking. 

Can You Use Any Oil In An Air Fryer?

Any vegetable oil can be used to lightly coat food for air frying. The higher the smoke point, the better. Refined cooking oils are recommended over unrefined oils for this very reason. Health-conscious individuals typically turn to avocado oil, extra-virgin or high-phenolic olive oil, peanut oil, canola, or grapeseed oil. 

Does An Air Fryer Requiring Preheating Before Adding Oil?

Even though most operating manuals for leading air fryers state that it’s unnecessary to preheat before adding oil, preheating first ensures a far better overall cook. Air-fried food coated and then inserted into a preheated air fryer come out fried more evenly, with more consistent coloring and an improved general flavor thanks to a balanced Maillard reaction occurring throughout the cooking area. 

Can I Use Cooking Spray In My Air Fryer?

We strongly advise against using cooking spray in an air fryer. The overwhelming majority of cooking sprays include the emulsifier soy lecithin and the anti-foaming agent dimethyl silicone, which together combine, causing tackiness to eventually develop atop the basket’s non-stick coating, thus reducing its effectiveness immensely as well. While cooking spray will work to a degree to improve the color, texture, and depth of flavor of air-fried goods, it doesn’t quite reach the same quality of final result as when using vegetable cooking oils, butter, or ghee. At the same time, even if one avoids coating the basket, as is best practice, contact with the cooking spray on the food will slowly but steadily damage it any way.

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